Chairman Hastings' Floor Statement on H.R. 2824, the "Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act"


WASHINGTON, D.C., March 25, 2014 - House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings delivered the following statement on the House floor today in support of H.R. 2824, the Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act.

"Mr, Chairman,

The Obama Administration has waged a long-running war on coal, which last year a White House advisor admitted “is exactly what’s needed.” But this is not only a war on a coal; it’s a war on jobs, our economy, affordable energy, small businesses, and the household budgets of American families. Already faced with higher home heating costs, middle class families will be further squeezed if the Obama Administration is successful in their attempts to shut down coal production.

One of the ways the Obama Administration has carried out this war on coal is through the reckless rewrite of a coal production regulation, the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule.

Shortly after taking office, the Obama Administration discarded the 2008 rule that went through five years of extensive public comment and environmental review. Since then the Administration has spent over $10 million taxpayer dollars working to rewrite this rule, including hiring new contractors, only to dismiss those same contractors once it was publicly revealed that the Administration’s proposed regulation could cost 7,000 jobs and cause economic harm in 22 states.

A report released by our House Natural Resources Committee staff in September of 2012, following years of oversight and investigation, exposed gross mismanagement of the rulemaking process, potential political interference, and widespread economic harm the proposed regulation would cause.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Inspector General released a report with similar findings. However, what’s more troubling is that the IG has identified significant on-going problems with the rulemaking process. To make matters worse, they are refusing to disclose these problems to Congress. For example, there’s an entire section of the report we’ve received entitled “Issues with the New Contract” that have been almost completely blacked out.

The Deputy Inspect General Mary Kendall has refused to give Congress an un-redacted copy of this report, despite our repeated requests. In a letter, she states that the Department of the Interior decided that it should be withheld from the Committee.

The IG is charged with being an independent watchdog for Congress. It’s completely unacceptable and inappropriate for the IG to be taking orders from the Department…especially about what information to withhold from Congress.

That’s why today I have issued a subpoena to the Deputy Inspector General Kendall for this information.

If the IG discovered on-going issues with the way the Department is currently conducting this rulemaking process, they have a responsibility and duty to share that information with Congress now.

The Committee is not asking the IG for materials produced by the Department, but we are asking for materials and interviews produced by the IG’s staff.

The Obama Administration’s rulemaking process has been and continues to be an unmitigated disaster. Despite having spent millions of taxpayer dollars, they have absolutely nothing to show for it and to date haven’t even produced a draft.

Meanwhile, states, industry, and America’s coal miners are left in limbo unsure of what the operating rules are on the ground. Without the 2008 rule, we are left with a rule that was put in place in 1983.

That is why we are here today to consider H.R. 2824, the Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act.

This legislation will put an end to the years of ongoing waste and dysfunction. It will put in place a responsible process to ensure there is no rush to recklessly regulate.

First, it stops the Administration’s unnecessary rewrite and implements the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule.

It then directs the Department to responsibly study the impact of the rule for a prescribed time period prior to initiating another new rule. This will provide certainty to the economy, the states, and allow a clear examination of what may need to be changed in the future. This bill will make certain that a new rule is written properly.

Some will attempt to criticize this bill for the fact that it puts in place the 2008 rule that was vacated on very narrow technical grounds by a federal judge last month. There is really nothing new here as this is the exact outcome that the Obama Administration has been seeking for over five years.

But let’s be clear about what the Court ruling, and subsequently the Department’s actions really mean.

The Court ruling strikes down the more protective 2008 rule and sets us back 30 years to a less restrictive 1983 rule. The 2008 rule is more modern and more protective in limiting the impacts of coal mining than the 1983 rule, but one federal judge ruled that 2008 rule must be set aside due to a narrow procedural technicality.

This single judge ruled that the because the 2008 rule didn’t have FORMAL consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service on possible impacts to endangered species, that the entire rule should be set aside and thus revert back to the 1983 rule.

For the record, there were multiple meetings and discussions and consultations with the Fish and Wildlife Service regarding species when the 2008 rule was written. And it was done in a public and transparent fashion over a multiple year period. Comments were taken and recommendations were made. But the bureaucratic process wasn’t done precisely so, and as a result one judge struck it down. Compare this conscientious effort that was done to protect species in the 2008 rule, with the fact that there was absolutely zero consideration of protecting species in the 1983 rule.

So what would be the responsible thing to do? Clearly, it would be to implement the more modern and protective 2008 rule. And what does the Obama Administration say? It happily exclaims: “Let’s go back, let’s go back, 1983 is calling!” Why should we go back? It simply makes no sense to discard a modern rule, where we know the ESA consultation took place, for a 30-year-old rule that we know had no ESA consultation.

Perhaps we should look to the people who the Obama Administration hired to write a rule of its own. In case notes that the Committee obtained from the IG’s office during their investigation, it quotes one of the current contractors admitting that “the 1983 rule was less restrictive than the 2008 rule.”

In the same case notes, it also states about the current contractor “she said, although she is a Democrat, the Stream Protection Rule appears to be an ‘effort to kill coal mining.’”

There you have it – straight from the mouth of the person who is working on the current rewrite. An admission that their new rule is an “effort to kill coal mining.”

And that’s why we must take action today to stop the Obama Administration. Not only are they attempting to impose a new coal regulation that will destroy thousands of American mining jobs, but they’ve wasted five years and over $10 million taxpayer dollars on a process that has been completely dysfunctional and misguided. Enough is enough.

Republicans want to create an America that works, and that requires access to affordable energy. If we do not stop the Administration from implementing its new coal regulation, thousands of Americans will be out of work and home heating costs for working middle class families will rise.

Let’s pass this legislation to protect American taxpayer dollars, protect American jobs, and end the Obama Administration’s reckless, wasteful rewrite by putting in place a responsible process that would allow a proper new rule to be written.

Thank you and I reserve the balance of my time."

###


Contact: Committee Press Office 202-226-9019

CONNECT